“Hue the aake yahin khemazan who deewaney,
utthe the sun ke jo aawaz-e-rehbaraan-e-watan.”
Translating into the lines, “This is where men with zeal stayed, Men who answered the leader’s call”, is an excerpt from Jamia Millia Islamia’s anthem song, written by Khaleeq Sb., which finds itself embedded within the heart of the institution’s spirit. As the campus was invaded by the Delhi police on 15th December 2019, in a deliberate attempt to silence the students protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act, the institution was brought into the limelight, maybe ever so bright. What followed the violence was shutting down of the campus, arrest of the youth, damaged buildings, and an institution with an ignited zest.
With the future in their hands, the youth must be involved in matters that impact the world. Activism gives them the space and opportunity to be placed into matters within which they are forced to observe the issues faced by society, giving a first-hand insight into the operation of politics and government. This is especially important in a county, where you are secular until you play by the majority’s rule and where the throats of those who come to speak against, are choked by tear gas shells. From Dec 2019, other than the chanting of slogans, the continued agitation by the students through creativity, art, and non-violence, positioned Jamia as one of the focal points of the ongoing protests throughout the country, with the scarcity of an elected student body, never affecting their century-old political awareness. Century-old, is to be mentioned, as this was not the first time that the institution’s rebellious nature came into the public eye. Rooted within India’s freedom struggle and born out of resistance against the British, it is quite evident that Jamia may have been a part of agitations, other than this one renowned time. Sundering itself from Aligarh Muslim University, Jamia Millia Islamia was established by founders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Zakir Hussain, Hakim Ajmal Khan etc., as a part of the non-cooperation movement against the British, which lead to the arrest of its students and teachers, turning into a hub of nationalism, from its genesis. In 1935, Jamia laid the foundation stone for its current campus in Okhla, New Delhi. With the addition of science, liberal arts, and other professional courses over the years, Jamia was formally established as a central university under the Indian government in 1988. Along with growing academic development, Jamia also became known due to its inherited quality of activism.
Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses make up for one of the most controversial books in recent literary history, due to its reported mocking and challenging of some of the most sensitive tenets comprised within prominent Muslim religious beliefs. The publication set off immediate demonstrations all over the world, along with a call for Rushdie’s execution. The wildfire spread as far as the subcontinent, and within the capital’s central university, which witnessed its own ignited flame due to pro-vice-chancellor, Mushirul Hasan’s opposition on the ban. With Badruddin Qureshi as the president of the student’s union, the courtyards echoed with slogans demanding Hasan’s resignation.
However, soon after this agitation, the student union was banned, with pages of the pending case filed in 2011, demanding the right to elect a student union, fluttering somewhere within the Delhi high court, for a long time. A years-long struggle by the students followed, with 2017 gaining prominence by widespread hunger strikes and protests. Leaders of student unions from various central universities were requested to join the demonstrations for the reinstatement. Towards the end of October 2017, a committee formed by the university clarified that it was in favour of election, yet merely, “in principle”, letting out a half-sigh by students.
A student union plays an important part in protests, given that they legitimize the movement, offer leadership and allow mobilization. With an absence of one, the administration gets a never-ending excuse upon listening to the student’s demands.
2019 witnessed an air of revolution with three moderately successful protests at the university. Within the fine arts department, At the beginning of the year, the demand that was for better faculty members grew out of the sphere towards the demand for the suspension of the HOD, Hafeez Ahmed, who faced an accusation by multiple students on grounds of sexual harassment and unsolicited advances. This resulted in widespread protests throughout January and February, where on one account students were beaten and manhandled by other groups of students who were reportedly close to the HOD. Around 80 women had filed a petition against the HOD in court according to students. “They suspended the HOD until the independent inquiry’s report is submitted, after which the movement was called off.”, stated Ehtmam Ul Haque, a law student at the university.
The Israel occupation of Palestine has been a major source of dispute all over the world for quite some time now, with adherents of Palestine, showing support by demonstrations and boycotting Israel. In 2019, Israel had been invited by the architecture department of Jamia to partner up for the global health zenith confluence programme. This idea was met with protests by students against Israeli participation. “They wanted to talk about their health infrastructure to whitewash their criminal image in the international community. We stand with the Palestinian right to self-determination,” said one of the student protesters. Despite continued attempts by the administration to stop the protests, students did not relent, forcing the administration to an agreement on four demands signed by representatives of the student groups. The most important point being: “We assure that if any Israeli delegate participates in any program, we will not allow.”
The continued activism and determination paved the way for more successful, massive rebellions, bringing people from different places on a century-old stage. The central university secured the attention of the entire nation with the anti-CAA and anti-NRC protests. Becoming one of the prominent faces of the demonstration, student activism in Jamia soared high, reflecting the ideologies of the founders like never before. The notion that student unionization will lead to unwanted politicization in the campus with the hindering of academics was challenged as Jamia secured the top spot in central university rankings in 2020.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a student union”, said Aqdas Sami, a student of Jamia while protesting against the citizenship amendment act.
As the statue of Mirza Ghalib within gate no.7 of Jamia Millia Islamia looks down on the activism and determination of the students, one can only comprehend how beautifully he would have written it out.
“Likhtay rahey junoon ki hikayat-e-khoon chakaan,
Harchand iss main haath hamare qalam hue.”
(We kept writing the blood-drenched narratives of that madness,
Although our hands were chopped off in the process.)
Maryam Hassan is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan